Engineering a solution

The decision of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to allow private corporations, with turnover of Rs 100 crore a year for the past three years, to set up and run degree- granting colleges is welcome. Companies are often critical of the quality of graduates produced by engineering colleges, deeming them unemployable, despite chronic shortages of skilled manpower. Enabling them to participate in equipping young people with skills that are necessary and useful in the job market could go some way towards expanding access to higher education while hopefully ensuring a base level of quality.

The drive towards universalisation of primary education through the RTE and the push to expand secondary school education means that more and more young people are eligible for, and aspiring towards, college-level instruction. Despite a huge increase in the number of universities and colleges, however, their higher educational needs remain sadly underserved. A 2011 FICCI and Ernst and Young report found that most higher education institutions, public and private, had poor physical infrastructure, suffered from faculty shortages and had outdated curricula 62 per cent universities and 90 per cent colleges with NAAC accreditation were rated average or below average.

It is not that the problem is not acknowledged. The crises in higher education in India, and the best ways to address them, have been a matter of much discussion and debate. The National Knowledge Commission headed by Sam Pitroda and the Yash Pal Committee submitted comprehensive reports dealing with critical issues in 2009. Both recommended structural changes, including amending the regulatory structure and allowing greater autonomy to colleges and universities to design curricula. But the bills dealing with such reforms, such as setting up of a national accreditation regulatory authority and promotion of autonomy, have been stuck in Parliament, despite former HRD Minister Kapil Sibal's 100-day plan of action back in 2009. The foreign educational institutions bill, which lays down conditions for the entry of foreign varsities and could address supply-side issues while assuring quality, was introduced in the Lok Sabha in 2010 and has been pending since. The government must ensure passage of these bills, without compromising their spirit, so that stop-gap solutions in this vital sector are rendered unnecessary.

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